The last post – for now…

So here it is.  Thanks to all who’ve been involved with dancing maps.  It won’t finish as a project, but I won’t be writing the blog for a bit – need some time to find something to say before saying more.  Also it will be clear from this past week that I’m having some difficulty finding time to do this, so I can’t carry it on at this pace indefinitely – have to get on with the rest of my job…

I have enjoyed doing this though.  It’s very different to making notes in my own notebook (I make lots of scribbley notes as an aid to thinking) – the fact that it was being published, and that some people have been favouriting it on twitter for example, has provided an excellent incentive to keep writing something each day, to prioritise reflection, and that has been a very useful thinking space.

On the other hand, the fact that there is such a lot of chatter on the internet, so many other blogs, tweets etc., relieves some of the pressure that I thought I would feel in publishing a daily blog – it’s not as exposing as it might seem because, as with urban living, it’s really easy to get lost in the crowd  (though, like everything else on the internet, who knows what afterlives the blog posts will have…).

In particular, the fact that dancing maps is a project that unfolds through the participation – through the volunteers sending videos and through discussion online and at the live event – has meant that a daily blog could respond and reflect organically on that, as a process, as it happened.  It is in that sense much more appropriate than a fully-fledged academic publication, because dancing maps is a participatory project (these are performative maps, and as such they are also participatory maps).  And it is appropriate to stop blogging just now, until the project is at a point to solicit a renewed wave of participation.  Watch this space – some day soon I’ll ask you again to show me your moves.


Now the end is near…. the penultimate dancing map blog post.

I said in my first daily blog that I would continue until the end of the month, and now that time is near.  It’s been a really interesting experience, and I’ll reflect a little bit on the process of doing this blog (a new experience for me) in my final blog tomorrow.  I feel as if I should bring a conclusion, and say categorically that dancing maps are maps because of this, this and this, and that this is what they map.  But I’m not quite at that point yet, and I wonder whether I’ll ever be at that point.  Why? Well, first because the dancing maps are performative – they are not temporally linear, but are lived, embodied in the moment of performance.  That’s not a process that concludes (it is not linear): it is an experience that happens now, then again now and now.  The looping gif files are indicative of that – they loop and loop again, not neverending, but with no memory of the previous time or anticipation of the next.  They perform. Second, because this may well be just a beginning for the dancing maps.  The idea is enormously generative – lots to think about in terms of the spatialities of dance. I’ve made some relationships and started to do some thinking that I want to continue – so watch this space. Third, because I’m not that kind of girl…  I’m trying to find a way to be an academic and still be myself.  I’m still an unusual UK academic, in that I’m a black woman from a non-privileged background – there’s no script for me to follow.  So, given half a chance, I can respond and I can connect – dancing maps has been a lovely experience of an idea that made a connection between elements that made sense to me (dancing and maps), and at the same time was an idea that made all the different people that I talk to (academics, dancers etc, even my children) smile with delight or recognition when they heard it.  There’s a promise in there, a shared enlivening, that hints at something good to me.  Conclusions don’t really come into it…


Back in the saddle 3: movements in geography

My last blog post talked about the necessity (based on Professor Opoku’s phrase: you have to see the music and hear the dance) that the cartographic capacity of African and Caribbean dance has to be understood in dialogue with music, with the drum.  What is the cartographic capacity of dance in its intended dialogue, with the music?

The field of sonic geographies is one that’s been building recently: mainly what I have encountered has been work that looks at the social and cultural geographies of music (which communities a particular type of music represents for example, or how people negotiate over sound in urban areas or in institutional settings, or how new genres of music come about through the movement of people to new areas and how there is a politics to this kind of cultural fusion) – all fascinating work.  I have come across people who are mapping the incidence or (perhaps) originary locations of certain types of music, but I haven’t yet come across anything that theorises how sound or music can be a form of mapping (if you have, then let me know).

Conversely, the digitisation of mapping has meant that pictures begin to open out to all kinds of different sensory experiences on the screen – one can hyperlink through to videos or to sound files just as easily as to documents or other pictorial maps (traditionally for example at other scales).  So digital cartographies definitely hold out the possibility of incorporating sound into conventional maps.  But again, this is not the same as the cartographic capacity of dance and drumming together.

Much more thought is needed here, with the implication of some pretty radical overhauling of the dancing maps videos (it won’t be enough just to click through to sounds from each video),but I am certain that the music is needed.  We cannot really see the music in the dances without also trying to hear the dance.

Last weekend of the dancing maps blog – just until the end of the month…


Back in the saddle 2: you have to see the music and hear the dance

I raised some questions in my last post, around Professor Opoku’s phrase: You have to see the music and hear the dance. How might the crucial presence of music, of the drum, work with the cartographic capacities of African and Caribbean dance?  How is sound related to mapping?

This is actually a difficult question (and therefore a fascinating one) partly because it underlines the radical differences between African and Caribbean dance and western conventions of mapping – whilst dance retains a visual element (on which the dancing maps videos do draw, and which in theory could itself be mapped using western conventional cartographic tools) the sound of the beats seems to completely transcend the pictorial.  So is it that, in order to really reveal the cartographic capacity of African and Caribbean dance, we have to find a way to see the music (i.e. make the drumming visible)?

Well, we could argue that this is what dance does: it makes the music visible.  People’s polyrhythmic movements reveal the polyrhythmic music. This seems to be what Professor Opoku was saying (as far as I understand it from what the dancers told me): it’s up to the dancer to make the audience see the music.  But this is not all he said: we also have to hear the dance.  Mapping, and the dancing maps videos specifically, in practice perhaps silence the dances.  The looping videos play in silence – we can perhaps see the music in the moves, but without the presence of the music, without the drums playing, can we actually hear the dance?  Or are we just seeing a one-sided conversation, like listening to one side of a telephone conversation – what would the drums say in these videos?  What are the spatial relationships expressed by drumming, by music?  What is the cartographic capacity of dance in its intended dialogue, with the music?

I’ll link this with some movements in sonic geographies and digital cartography, in my next post.


Back in the saddle – three blog posts to make up for the intermission!

As I mentioned in a twitter post (#patnoxolo) I have been unable to add to these blog posts for a couple of days, because I’ve been giving a paper in Vienna (thanks to people at the University of Vienna Department of Development Studies, where I received a very warm welcome).  I want to make up for this by giving you three blog posts at once!

In my last blog post I revisited the fact that people used two devices to record their dancing maps videos – one to watch the demonstration videos, and one to record their own dancing.  I want to think in these three posts about what that means for music and dance seen together (the two are quite tightly linked).

At the recent Re:generations conference, and at the dancing maps live event, Professor Opoku’s phrase was quoted again and again by African and Caribbean dance practitioners: ‘You have to see the music and hear the dance’.  They explained each time that the music is integral to the dance: you cannot have African and Caribbean dance without music, and generally speaking that means you have to have some presence for the drum.

In African and Caribbean dancing, it is the rhythms coming from the drums (albeit often in interaction with other instruments) that create the dance.  The dances are often named for the beat, for the music that they express, not for the movement.  And it is the drums that often carry the spiritual force of the dance: when I was warned about the power of kumina for example, it was not so much about the dance movements in themselves, but about the power of the drums.

So how does this work with the cartographic capacities of African and Caribbean dance?  How is sound related to mapping?  I’ll have a think about that in my next post.


Inhabiting the dances

I mentioned in the second of these daily blog posts that I had found that people would sometimes use two devices to make their video selfie: one to record the video and the other to play the demonstration videos.  This interested me.

One of my intentions with the dancing maps project was that people would inhabit the dances, that they would experience the dance in their bodies, feel how the dance moves.  This is a feature of performed mapping, that one experiences spatial relationships (the body in space and the body as a space), in and through the body.  I do not understand this necessarily as a possession by the dance (though each dance has a certain power, people will still control their own bodies in the dancing maps videos), but I do feel that each dance move has a certain resistance and flow – if people inhabit the move, its rhythms, logics and energies will carry the body along.   The fact that people watched the demonstration moves while recording the video seems to militate against this – people were not watching the moves, then practising the moves (spending time within the move), before recording it.

This is partly a feature of the more widespread cultures of video dance and movement instruction – all over youtube there are videos of people teaching dance and aerobic exercise moves.  The expectation is that people will watch and do the moves at the same time, and they are not necessarily expected to remember or inhabit the moves – for exercise videos the important thing is just to move.  People are used to consuming this kind of video, and they inevitably draw on their knowledge of these conventions when engaging with dancing maps.  This resonates with an insight that I have been developing for my forthcoming book ‘Fleshy textualities’, in relation to Richard Walsh’s theories of the ‘rhetoric of fictionality’, in which readers are active in using their cultural competences to define and interpret fiction (though fiction is often pre-packaged, its interpretation does not  necessarily come pre-determined).

I have been combining Walsh’s insights with insights from Wilson Harris’s literary criticism (are you getting the impression that I love his work?) in relation to what he calls ‘the novel of associations’ – applying what Harris says about writers to readers (still with me?), it’s possible to imagine that instead of simply applying the cultural competences that are conventionally expected (Althusserian interpellations around class, gender and race for example) readers might associate with texts in more unpredictable, more open ways, within broader capacities of the person.    Harris’s notion of ‘associations’ allows the possibility that, even if people draw on their cultural competences around video demonstrations (a more dependent relationship that relies on looking as much like the demonstration video as possible and moving for the sake of movement), they may still experience associational flashes in the body that will build or draw on a cartographic capacity, particularly if they stay with the demonstration video for its whole length.


Cartographic appropriation?

Yesterday’s post mentioned the interactions I experienced whilst leafleting for the live event.   An issue that arose in a hairdresser’s was one that came up again at the live event, and it’s an unsettling one.  The hairdresser agreed to display the leaflets, but she also asked me whether I was going to be playing kumina drums (more about kumina here).  I said no, and she explained that she thought it would be dangerous if I messed about with the powerful spirituality behind the drumming in Kumina, as I might release forces that I would not be equipped to handle.  She was genuinely concerned for me, and said that she would not be coming to the event because she was not convinced that I appreciated this power.  I do recognise this power of the drumming and the dancing – I have a respect for it, and I believe that African and Caribbean dances carry many different forms of power that have been resources for the survival of African and Caribbean people over many generations.  My own faith leads me to believe that if I work with the spiritual, it will work with me.  The dances’ underlying spiritual power therefore doesn’t put me off the dancing, but rather draws me to it.

However this woman’s very understandable concerns do raise the issue of appropriation – do I have the right to take something so powerful, with its own integrity, and reinterpret it as a map?  Is this what it is intended for?  Is it mine to use in this way?  I had a more pointed discussion around a similar theme with a participant at the live event.  She was concerned that people who are carrying out the moves they see in demonstration videos do not understand the dances they are doing – they do not understand the meanings behind the moves, and I am encouraging them to appropriate the moves in a superficial way, without developing a depth of relationship with the cultures from which they arise.

This is an important point.  I argued that I do explain the moves on the website and I try to build respect for their diversity and meaning.  I argued that African and Caribbean dance traditions are not ossified and fixed, but are living traditions that move as we move (particularly in the Caribbean, where the abrupt disjunctures of slavery made for creative reinhabiting of a range of African dance traditions).  But both of these thoughtful women did made me think about how the project will develop, and each has strengthened my awareness that I need to work with those who have studied the dances in depth, in order to ensure that I do take them seriously, as dances and as traditions, not just as maps.  I have been bracketing these issues, holding on to the idea that these are multi-functional cultural resources that can be looked at as maps(or at least as dances with strong cartographic capacity) without diminishing their other social and spiritual functions.  I actually do think that might still be true, but I am beginning to realise that respect is not just a case of vaguely acknowledging the wholeness of these dances; respect is about working with that wholeness.


Communal openness and corporate closure

In the run-up to the live event, I went around Birmingham leaving leaflets in public places, with an eye to attracting diverse publics, by which I mean people who don’t normally come to events at the University, but who might be interested in African and Caribbean dance.  So I dropped some leaflets off at libraries, theatres and bookshops, with a special eye on places where dance happens (so for example I dropped some at Dance Exchange), but also in hairdressers, on market stalls, and in eating places (so for example I dropped some in places where I normally shop for the ingredients to make Caribbean food for my family).   As I dropped the leaflets some interesting issues arose that might be described as the balance between communal openness and corporate closure.

Several people were interested and surprised that I was coming from the university to drop leaflets off – they asked me about the event, and engaged me in conversation.  The physicality of dropping off leaflets (its face-to-face immediacy, compared to the social media I had also used) began conversations, and the fact that I went from the university to people’s places of work, rather than just expecting them to come to me, shifts the expected dynamic of university research (though I also do recognise that the physicality of coming onto university grounds for a school project was the seed that grew into my academic career, which was the reason I wanted the public event to be at the university).  In practice, I’m not sure how many of these leaflets generated bums on seats that evening, but what they did clearly spark was physical interaction.  This resonates with the project’s aims (see yesterday’s powerpoints) – dancing maps is about corporeal awareness at its heart, and these early interactions are a promise of that.

Conversely, I experienced corporate closure in the unwillingness of many buildings (including some of the university’s own buildings) to advertise public events at the university – again and again staff explained apologetically that they could only display leaflets for their own events (though many offered to put some in their staffrooms).  It made me painfully aware of how corporate Birmingham has become as a city, how much of the sense of public buildings that are primarily resources for the public has gone (and the ‘German market’  – see also here – only exacerbates this – don’t get me started…)  Again, there is something fundamental at the heart of dancing maps as a project that aims to repossess our own spatiality, to envisage our own bodies as having the cartographic capacity to represent and codify our own understandings of space.


The day after the night before

Had such a great time last night at the Dancing Maps live event!  A good crowd of people responded to the tweets, emails, flyers, and personal invitations, including academics and non-academics.  We had a little wait at the beginning before everyone could get through the Birmingham traffic, but the people who came were I think relaxed about it – they chatted, laughed, ate cake, and got to know each other.  Many also chatted with me about the project and what it sparked in their minds – really interesting inputs people!  (I’ll post more about some of their insights and what they sparked for me over the next week).  Thanks so much to you all for your support.

The event itself was fascinating.   My first input was about the concept behind the dancing maps project (I’ll post my powerpoint slides on my blog tomorrow).  Then we had two dances from ACE youth group – they were fantastic!  Not only did they dance with energy and skill, these young people (I estimate between the ages of 15 and 19)  also talked confidently and articulately afterwards about the meanings in the dances they performed (many of which interweaved with themes coming out of the project – more on that in my blogs over the next week).  Thanks so much to you all for that, and to Gail and Ian Parmel, whose wonderfully fertile work at Ace Dance and Music was very much on show in the polished performances.

‘H’ Patten then gave a remarkable presentation/performance, in which he mapped through speech and dance the multiple trajectories of African and Caribbean dance.  He illustrated how various circular movements in the body in a range of African dances get “re-presented” in dances in the Caribbean.  Beyond that he also talked about the returning bodily moves that we see in contemporary urban African dance forms, so that we can speak of ‘journeys’ (and we spoke a lot about this), but we can also talk about globalised juxtapositions, so that we begin to construct complex polylinear mobilities.  Brilliant!  Thanks so much H.

Finally, there was discussion (with those who could stay – it was getting late).  Some of the experienced dancers – Desmond Pusey, ‘H’ Patten, Gail and Ian Parmel, Iona Waite – as well as some of the Ace youth dancers, talked about their careers so far, about what drew them to African and Caribbean dance, and about its continuing influence and relevance, not only in performance, but also in therapeutic and academic settings.  It was a real privilege to be there.  Thanks to all.

I will say more about the ideas beginning to be generated over the next few days, but I don’t want to finish today’s blog without saying thanks to the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Advanced Studies, who organised the room, the cake/drinks, the flyers, and especially to Sarah Jefferies and the student helpers, who lugged around furniture, and offered invaluable moral and practical support on the day.  Thanks so much!